Tuesday, January 7, 2020

"Lots of space in this mall."​ - Elwood Blues

Again today, another unsurprising announcement about two legacy retailers and brands on the slow road to demise. According to Business Insider, Pier One "announced Monday in an earnings report that it plans to close up to 450 of its 942 stores ...." And "Macy's is closing at least 15 stores in early 2020."
If you are anything like me, a product of 1980's America, you had a penchant for all things mall-related. Or, you may have been a parent of that child. In either case, you were likely as taken with the kick-off of consumerism (and Orange Julius) as we know it. When a brand was a brand and that was enough.
Also, if you are anything like me, you have lately walked or driven by the storefronts or parking lots of these stores and their ilk and perhaps wondered to yourself, "How on earth are these stores still in business?"
Which in fact begs another question, "Why on earth are all of these stores going out of business?" That question is half nostalgic at best, and too late in coming at worst.
The questions maybe should have been, "What is happening to our brands?" "Do brands matter anymore?" "And if they do, why?"
Obviously, these questions are complicated, complex and wrought with missed earnings forecasts, not to mention changing consumer demographics, motivations and priorities. There's no one answer, but like any paradigm shift, the current situation has been in the works for decades - even before the perceived move from brick and mortar to the fickle and empowering world of online retail.
The world has been evolving from the retailer-driven "Come and Get It" mentality to the consumer-driven "I think I'll just look that up online and buy it right now so I can get it for the party tomorrow night" standard. And, maybe because of guilt and conscience, there is also a fair and worthy mix of a new resurgence of shopping and dining locally and supporting the new Mom and Pops - that have replaced the ones we were all complicit in shuttering over the last two decades.
There are still cult brands, and I think (or would like to think) there will always be. But my personal list of favorite brands has diminished much over the last several years. I used to be a diehard J. Crew, Anthropology, Banana Republic, Gap, Polo, etc., fan. Now, not only are some of these brands holding what seems like weekly liquidation sales, some are on the brink of bankruptcy. Each store, including their ill-conceived "Outlet Stores," has been, in recent years, an overabundant wasteland of cheaply made reproductions of their previous "staples." These brands don't mean now what they did years ago. Why? Largesse and a "too big to fail" mentality?

Personally, and I do mean this personally as a consumer - I vote with my dollars. I strayed. I strayed when J. Crew started their "Collection" of items $500 and more. I strayed when the Gap got too big for their khaki britches and started charging me $79 for a sweater and jeans. Or when Banana was all, "here's a cheap pattern that everyone will remember. It's $219 today. It will be $39 in XS in two weeks, though."

Could they have survived? I mean, Old Navy is leaving the Gap. This break-up is to me bigger than Ross and Rachel (they were on a break).
Did the brands sell themselves short? Or think themselves too big? Did we? Or both. Did we want too much choice? Well, we've got it. Now what do we do with it? How do we become loyal to brands when the very thing that means is changing under our feet (or our smart phones)?
What will happen to our favorite brands in 2020? What new brands will emerge from the ashes? I can't wait to see how existing legacy brands evolve and change, or if they can and will. I also can't wait to see which companies find their way to the top and how they do it. I can't wait to see the ads and the branding and the media and the messaging and the targeting.
But, as a Gen X poster-child, I will be enjoying my Starbucks, Diet Coke, Chick-fil-A, and Trader Joe's and Target runs and supporting local heroes while all of this continues to shake out ....

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